In baseball, the most numerically pure of all sports, 2020 was an aberration. A hodgepodge. A jerry-rigged jalopy that somehow made it all the way to the finish line. Playing in a bubble, playing under the specter of a pandemic, playing a shortened season with the threat of cancellation or worse at every turn, the Dodgers managed to win the World Series.
Los Angeles gets a trophy, but — given all that’s happened in the last seven months — should the Dodgers get an asterisk to go along with it?
No. Not just no, but **** no.
The 2020 season, although short, is as valid as any other, and the 2020 World Series championship is every bit as legitimate as the 115 that came before it. Allow me to explain, using baseball’s twin favorite rhetorical weapons: sentimentality and statistics.
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First, let’s note that in Normal Times, baseball’s regular season is a haul, and like any long trip, there are points where you just want it to be over. There is not one person in American history, alive or dead, who would rather watch a dull June slog over literally any postseason game. The same way summer vacation used to be our reward for getting through the school year, the postseason is our reward for getting through the regular season.
What we lost from 2020 was a whole lot of fat around the edges, and baseball could stand to lose a few games, if we’re being honest. Sixty games were more than enough to let the good teams separate themselves from the pack and let the bad teams sink to their level, but not nearly enough time to coast for a series or take even a single game for granted.
There’s a limit to this indulgence here — you can’t eat Halloween candy for every meal — but I think we’re still well within a statistically valid sample size with a 60-game regular season.
Plus, let’s not pretend otherwise: The Dodgers would have made the playoffs if there were six games, or 6,000. This is a team built to strike fast, hard and constantly, and there is virtually no scenario short of locking the team in a different bubble where the Dodgers didn’t make the postseason.
So let’s talk about that postseason, shall we? Because it’s there that any case for an asterisk vaporizes.
Was baseball’s new four-level playoff structure a hopped-up contrivance, designed specifically to maximize revenue and monetize drama? Absolutely. But so too were the one-game wild card playoffs in 2012, the Division Series in 1995, and the League Championship Series in 1969. Hell, the World Series itself is an artifice; if the regular season is so valuable, why doesn’t baseball do it the Premier League way and award the championship to the regular season winner?
Because playoffs rule, that’s why, and because October baseball rules even more.
You could make a convincing argument that no team in the entire history of baseball has had a tougher route to a World Series title than the Los Angeles Dodgers. Consider how much tougher their task was than even three of the all-time greatest teams:
1927 Yankees: Played four, won four. One series victory.
1975 Cincinnati Reds: Played 10, won seven. Two series victories.
1998 New York Yankees: Played 13, won 11. Three series victories.
2020 Los Angeles Dodgers: Played 18, won 13. Four series victories.
Four different series. Four chances for something catastrophic, for the baseball gods to decide they weren’t done screwing with the Dodgers. Four chances for the team to make an early exit. Four obstacles overcome, four opportunities maximized.
Not only that, they had to do it without the real benefit of a home-field audience. Yes, there have been some fans in attendance in Texas, and yes, the Dodgers have earned the benefit of batting last in every series they’ve played. But the intangible benefits of true home-field advantage simply haven’t existed for Los Angeles.
Plus, consider the sheer grind of the 2020 postseason. Until the World Series, teams played every day until one of them dropped. That was fine when Los Angeles was sweeping the Brewers and Padres, not so great when the Braves took them the distance.
Playing so many games in such a short span of time doesn’t just exhaust players, it wrecks rotations. The Dodgers’ patch-it-as-it-leaks rotation cracked and bent, but ultimately never broke, a testament to their arms and Dave Roberts’ strategic deployment. The only team to play in more games in a single postseason? Why, the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays, of course.
Now, all this said, there’s one element of the 2020 postseason where I’ll grant you that baseball needs to include, if not an asterisk, maybe a ~ or a ^, something to designate that this weird melange of playoff series is unlike any other: cumulative statistics.
The sheer number of games available to players this year has completely skewed single-season cumulative records. For instance, the all-time single-season postseason leader in hits? Randy Arozarena, with 29. He also leads all of baseball history in single-season postseason home runs and total bases. Corey Seager is just one off the record for runs scored in a postseason, with 20. Four players, all Rays, are tied with the most games played in a postseason at 20. All that’s giving a bit too much credit to guys who got the opportunity to show up for work more than anyone before them.
When it comes to the most important part of the postseason, though — the trophy — that belongs to the Dodgers, and they can exult in winning a championship unlike any before it. Asterisk? Hell, they ought to put an exclamation point on it.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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